Early Americans

Return of Roger Williams from England with the First Charter, 1644. From a painting by C.R. Grant. Engraving from The Providence Plantations for 250 Years, Welcome Arnold Greene, 1886.

Return of Roger Williams from England with the First Charter, 1644. From a painting by C.R. Grant. Engraving from The Providence Plantations for 250 Years, Welcome Arnold Greene, 1886.

James ROSIER or Rozier, who may have been French, is on the books at Pembroke as B.A. in 1592 1. A decade later he was messing about in boats along the coastline and deep into the inlets of New England. Very likely he was the first Pembroke man to sail past Cape Cod, then yet to be named Cape James by Captain John Smith. That was in 1602, with Bartholomew Gosnold, who had been at Jesus. To this voyage is sometimes mistakenly attributed the first founding of Jamestown, Virginia. Then again in 1605 Rosier put out at Gravesend on March 5, as he tells us in his “True relation of Captain George Weymouth his Voyage, made this present Year 1605, in the Discovery of the North Part of Virginia”. About May 14 they sighted land, most probably Monhegan Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. They went due North, sailing up the Penobscot river past what is now Cape Rozier, beyond Bangor, “sixty miles up a most excellent river, together with a most fertile land”, where without the benefit of interpretation they had truck with the locals of the Algonquin nation. Rosier’s party set sail for England within a month with a cargo of specimens, including five Algonquins2. But after his arrival at Dartmouth on July 18 this earliest of Pembroke’s Americans disappears from the record of the New World. He may have ‘poped’, and appears to have died in 1635, perhaps on his way back from Rome. Interestingly John Smith’s famous first map of New England, “observed and described” in l614, refers to Penobscot bay as Pembrocks Bay.

William CLAIBORNE, second son of a well-to-do London merchant turned gentleman, was christened August 10, 1600 at Crayford in Kent. He was to name his trading post on the Chesapeake Bay Kent Island, and his plantation nearby Crayford. (This is now Claiborne, a few miles North-East of Cambridge, Maryland.) When Claiborne matriculated at Pembroke on May 31, 1617, it was probably after he had already been at least once to the New World with John Smith, to whom he appears to have been related through his mother. In its seventh state, printed in London in 1616, Smith’s map just mentioned refers to the islands that form the Southern tip of the main entrance to Boston harbour as the Claibornes. (In earlier states they are called the Carys: such renamings are not uncommon between the states of Smith’s map, this one allowing us perhaps to date Claiborne’s first voyage to 1615 Or l616, in his ‘gap’ year.) The Claibornes, incidentally, face Deer Island light across Shirley gut, and this, the main channel into Boston harbour, is named after another Pembroke man, whose exploits against the Acadians or French Canadians fall outside the range of this account.3

No sooner had he graduated B.A. that, in October 1621, Claiborne was back in the New World, arriving on the George at Jamestown fort, at the mouth of the James river, in the new Governor’s party4. Sir Francis Wyatt was a Kentish man too, of protestant sympathies; and Claiborne had the appointment of Surveyor to the Colony. He made himself useful, laid out the new town outside the fort, and in 1625 became the first secretary of state of Virginia. Later he was to be also state treasurer-for-life. He is however mainly notable on two counts – as the first systematic explorer and surveyor of the tarantular shoreline of the lower Chesapeake bay, between the Potomac and the Yorke river on the Western shore and, directly across, between Accomack and Wicomico counties on the Eastern shore;5 and as the main protagonist in what may count as the first armed conflict among the colonists – a civil war of sorts between Catholics and Protestants.

Kent Island lies due east of Annapolis on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake, and there in the wilderness in 1631 Claiborne had established cordial and prosperous fur-trading relations with the Susquehannocks. Within a year, however, Charles I granted the catholic George Calvert, first lord Baltimore, the territory of Maryland, sparsely settled by the French, in substitution for a stretch of protestant Virginia further South, where Calvert’s influence was resented. Thus Claiborne’s island was assigned to Baltimore, whose locum tenens in the New World was his brother Leonard. A protracted struggle ensued, in which force and crown recourse were alternatingly used on each side. Initially Claiborne lost men and vessels, and then appeals. He was expelled from the island in 1638, incurring heavy loss, his brother-in-law Butler (after whom a township on the Choptank river is named) having eventually turned coat. But under the Commonwealth, until the Ca1verts shrewdly made their peace with Parliament, Claiborne recovered his property. “Evil genius of Maryland” yet an enterprising fellow and surveyor worthy of note, he got no redress under Charles II and died in 1677. Descendants of his have adorned D.S. public administration to this day, and numerous place-names recall his other holdings on the Western shore, in Northumberland County, between the Yorke river and Cape Comfort.

After 1635 the action shifts back to New England and to strife among protestants. A protege of Lord Chief Justice Coke, Roger WILLIAMS was admitted to Pembroke from Charterhouse in 1623. Pre-eminent champion of religious toleration, in an intolerant age, he was controversial, and in 1630 he removed to New England. Ten years after the landing there of the Pilgrims, he was minister at Plymouth. But his wonderfully liberal ideasset him at odds with the structured Puritans. Facing deportation, he fled the Massachusetts-bay colony into the protection of Miantonomo, chief of the NalTagansett Algonquins. The rest is well-known. In 1643, the year in which he founded Providence and “the Providence plantations in Narragansett bay” obtained their charter (through a Pembroke collateral, as it happened), he published his Key into the Languages of America, the first Algonquin dictionary. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Rhode Island, which Williams wrote in 1652, was the first anywhere in the world explicitly to prohibit slavery.

Scituate or satuit, meaning ‘cold brook’ in Algonquin, is just off Route 3, half-way between Boston and Plymouth, on the way to Cape Cod. Among the familiar names nearby on the inland side of the highway are North Pembroke, East Pembroke and Pembroke, while Standish is on the ocean-side. Scituate had been settled shortly after Plymouth, and when John Lothrop arrived in September 1634 there were already nine small houses there, with palisaded fences. Lothrop organised the Scituate church in January 1635, but internal stress came early. The dispute remains obscure, a matter of land and property, opinionated zeal, and personalities. The original settlers, mostly migrants from the Plymouth colony, were more puritanically structured than the newcomers, among whom was numbered the mercurial William Vassall from Tenterden in Kent, brother of Stephen VASSALL, who had matriculated at Pembroke in 1616. (A further Vassall brother, Samuel, was the commissioner for plantations responsible for the incorporation of Roger Williams’ Providence plantation in 1643, as above.)6 Successive “Days of Humiliation” were instituted at Lothrop’s church, in general dissatisfaction and for his removal. At length in the summer of 1639 the Lothropians, but not William Vassall, vacated Scituate and removed to Mattacheese on the Cape, renaming it Barnstaple.

Lothrop’s place at Scituate was taken by Christopher BLACKWOOD, who had matriculated at Pembroke, a sizar aged 13, in 1621. He went to New England in 1640 and was promptly invited to succeed Lothrop at Scituate. A good-natured man, he was not equal to vituperative controversy, and in 1641 he moved on,7 to be replaced by one of the best educated men in seventeenth century New England. Charles Chauncy, a Trinity man from Hertfordshire, had been an undergraduate (1610), then a fellow (1614), and Regius professor of both Greek and Hebrew. In 1637, however, he had been Imprisoned for nonconformity, whereupon he emigrated. He was minister at Plymouth from 1638 till his views on baptism (by total immersion rather than sprinkling) gave offence, and he was asked to move on. At Scituate Chauncy found acceptance among the structured puritans, but bitter opposition from William Vassall, a public-spirited man intolerant of intolerance. In 1645, with Myles Standish’s support, Vassall initiated a petition seeking full religious toleration for all well-behaving men. The matter was aired, in this “the most intolerant period in the history of Massachusetts” (Morison), in a variety of remonstrances; and intolerance won out.8 Shortly afterwards Vassall removed to Barbados. Sad to say, his considerable fortune was – like that of many prosperous and liberal New Englanders – related to the transportation of slaves.

In 1654, wearied by the vexations of Scituate, Chauncy was invited to succeed Henry Dunster as President of Harvard College. Interestingly Dunster, the first President, had been asked to leave for embracing total immersion, and Chauncy accepted the overseers’ condition that he should abandon, in public at least, his own Baptist propensities. So they swapped, Dunster going to Scituate, Chauncy to Cambridge.

Harvard had had Pembroke connections from the start. In the first graduating class of 1642 was John Wilson, a collateral descendant of Archbishop GRINDAL (Pembroke BA, 1538) and progenitor of a mighty Massachusetts dynasty. John COLLINGES or Collins, mentioned by Calamy, had his Harvard M.A. incorporated at Pembroke in 1654; he became chaplain to General Monk, and afterwards a notable independent minister in London. As Chauncy was arriving in Harvard, several of the graduating class were about to become the first American-born to study in Cambridge, England. First was John STONE, born at Cambridge, Mass., and admitted to Pembroke on March 10, 1655, who became a fellow and died young; his father Samuel, an Emmanuel man, had founded, with the famous Thomas Hooker (silenced by Laud in 1626), the church in Hartford, Connecticut. Next was Walter HOOKE, born in Devon, a cousin of Oliver Cromwell’s through his mother. He was certainly matriculated at Pembroke in 1654 and, it appears, two years later at Harvard.9 He had been at school in New England as a child, his father having emigrated upon being ejected from his Devon living. Hooke himself was eventually chaplain to the East India Company, and he died at Masulipatam in the Bay of Bengal in 1670. Then came William KNIGHT, born at Ipswich, Massachusetts, and Harvard class of 1655, admitted to Pembroke on April 18, 1656. He too was connected to Cromwell. Last in this first cohort of the earliest Americans in Cambridge, all of them coming to Pembroke, is John HAYNES jr, Harvard class of 1656, second son (by his second wife) of John Haynes, third governor of the Massachusetts-bay colony, and first governor of Connecticut. Governor Haynes persecuted witches, and his son (admitted to Pembroke on November 14,1657) may be the Haynes who became vicar of Henley-on- Thames in the 1660s.

Sadly all these early transplants from Harvard died relatively young. There is however another and happier thread to their Pembroke connection. Under the provisions of Sarjeant Hitcham’s will, Elijah CORLET, a grecian of Christ’s Hospital and a graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford, born in 1611, was in 1635 appointed by the fellows of Pembroke to be the schoolmaster at Framlingham in Suffolk, thereby becoming M.A. from Pembroke in 1638. From 1641 to his death in 1687 he was the exemplary master of the Latin School at Cambridge, Massachusetts, the feeder school for Harvard, agreeing to become so only on condition that he could educate as many native Americans as he educated settlers’ kin. A modest and upright man, humourous too, his charges, from both nations, populated the first two houses at Harvard for the first forty years of its existence; and most of those just named above belong among those charges. Nehemiah Walter’s touching tribute to his admirable schoolmaster on his death is reprinted in Sibley’s Lives of the Harvard Graduates.10



1. I am indebted for useful information mainly to the Dictionary of National Biography, the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, C.H. Cooper’s Athenae Cantabrigienses, J. and J.A. Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cotton Mather’s Magnalia, Harvey Hunter Pratt’s Early Planters of Scituate, Eugene A. Stratton’s Plymouth Colony, and John Langdon Sibley’s Lives of the Harvard Graduates. Dr K.P. Van Anglen and Miss J.S. Ringrose, together with the staff of the University Library’s Map Room and the staff of the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room of the Library of Congress, have provided kind assistance.

2. Their names are recorded by Rosier as Tahanedo, Amoret, Skicowaros, Maneddo, and Saffacomoit.

3. William SHIRLEY, admitted to Pembroke in 1710, came to Boston in 1731 to practice law. Quickly expert in local topography, he was governor of the Massachusetts-bay colony from 1741 to 1756, reformed the currency, fought the Acadians with more zeal than success, and was immensely industrious till his death in Roxbury, Mass. in 1777. Along the way he had been governor of the Bahamas and a vastly knowledgeable surveyor of the forests of New England up to Nova Scotia.

4. Six years after newly-married Pocahontas and John Rolfe had sailed for England.

5. The area is that detailed later in Sir Robert Dudley’s first sea chart of the Chesapeake and the Carolina Sounds: “l’aria e humida e non molto sana” (Florence, 1647).

6. The Vassalls, of Huguenot extraction, were considerable colonial pioneers. Their father John was a founding member of the Virginia company; William is mentioned in the first charter of the Massachusetts company; and Samuel, a parliamentarian under the commonwealth, had business in the Carolinas and in Guinea. William died a rich man in Barbados (1655), and Samuel may have died in Massachusetts some time afterwards.

7. Eventually perhaps to Dublin, where he may have died in 1670.

8. Against the Puritans Vassall published New Englands Jonas Cast up at London in London in 1647, but was promptly and brilliantly answered in New Englands Salamander.

9. There is a slight possibility of reverse order.

10. By way of righting the balance it may be noted that among the fellow-commoners of the early 18th century at Pembroke is David YALE, barrister, born at Newhaven, Connecticut, and admitted to the College on March 2,1718, practically at the same time as his nabob uncle Elihu made the gift that gave his name to Yale university. But like several others whom it would be tempting to include, in particular Richard LUDLUM (1709) who built the church at Goose Creek in Berkeley county, South Carolina, and left a considerable estate, an excursion into the 18th century would prolong this note unduly.

Michael Kuczynski (1959), Annual Gazette No.77, September 2003 pp. 49-54

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Return_of_Roger_Williams.jpg